Does keeping secrets in marriage make it inherently unhealthy? Over our years of marriage, and our years counseling married and engaged couples, we’ve found the answer to be both nuanced and subjective. The truth is, the idea that a couple should never keep secrets sounds and feels good at the surface level–but can a marriage really handle an overflow of transparency at all times?
Many of us grew up believing that there are no secrets in a healthy marriage. We come to believe that spouses should tell one another everything, no matter what–hiding no details and laying everything out in the name of total transparency. But is it truly wise or healthy for us to reveal every thought, feeling, and impulse to our spouse?
If you’re wondering whether keeping secrets can make a marriage unhealthy, the answer is: it depends. Read on to learn more.
Serious Truths Should Not Be Kept Secret, Even When They Hurt
While spouses may not necessarily need to bombard one another with every detail at every turn, we’ll start by reinforcing the fact that serious, painful truths should be disclosed between spouses. If a secret could harm or impact your marriage, then it needs to be out in the open, even when it hurts. Likewise, you must absolutely avoid deceptive behavior.
Some examples of these types of truths include job loss, debt, infidelity, addictions, health diagnoses, and any other information that could damage (or do further harm to) the trust between you and your spouse. Even small, but pervasive behavior patterns can translate into problems if one spouse feels the need to be secretive.
Oftentimes, people keep significant truths secret from one another because they don’t want to do harm. For example, perhaps one spouse loses a job and doesn’t want their husband or wife to know. Or maybe one spouse used shared funds to make a large investment without consulting the other because they didn’t want to experience their partner’s potentially negative reaction. We’ve personally experienced counseling a couple where one partner did not disclose a diagnosed medical condition, and their spouse learned about it only because they found an empty medicine bottle in the bathroom garbage.
Some Truths Are Best Left Unsaid
We believe that healthy marriages strike a balance between being open, respecting one another’s privacy, and speaking the truth in love. Before you let the unfiltered truth flow haphazardly toward your spouse, you need to question whether that truth could cause harm. We like to call this censored self-disclosure.
Some people lean into the idea of being “brutally honest” with one another, no matter how hurtful the result. But when you let the concept of brutal honesty rule your communication with one another, you open the doors to unnecessary conflict in your relationship. Rather than a safe space, your marriage could potentially deteriorate into a warzone.
Other spouses feel the need to say everything that comes to mind, without thinking before they speak. But some feelings and thoughts are fleeting, and don’t last for long. There’s no need to vocalize passing sentiments that could be hurtful to your spouse. In James 1:26, James emphasizes the importance of controlling what you say, and thinking it over carefully before you say it.
Before you speak, ask yourself whether it’s possible to share this truth with your spouse in love, or whether this information might lead to unnecessary distress. Do you really need to say it? Would it be harmful to withhold your thoughts in this instance?
Discuss Expectations and Set Boundaries
You and your spouse probably have different ideas and expectations about honesty, openness, and privacy in your marriage. If you’ve never talked this over with your spouse, it might be beneficial to do so. You’ll want to establish boundaries and expectations that work for both of you as a couple.
Within those boundaries, you can decide what life details you want to share with one another, and what information might be better left unsaid. Are there changes that may affect the level of stress at home? Consider talking about those so no one is left in the dark. On the other hand, you might find that you both feel more peaceful if you don’t go into exhaustive detail about work-related minutiae or the ins and outs of your extended family’s affairs.
Prioritize Trust and Avoid Deceit
The bottom line is this: secrets that involve deceiving your spouse could irreparably harm your marriage. You must both avoid deceiving one another if you want your marriage to be healthy. In order to have a greater measure of appropriate privacy in your relationship, you have to maintain trust with one another. In this way, it’s possible to build a healthy marriage that both respects each spouse’s privacy and maintains trust.
Building a healthier marriage depends not only on your dynamic together, but on your health as individuals. If you need guidance on how to become healthier–for the benefit of your relationships–check out our book, Healthy Me, Healthy Us.
Have you and your spouse agreed on a measure of privacy in your relationship? How did you get there, and how has it impacted your marriage? Let us know in the comments.